Childhood Obesity Complications
High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea – can
you name someone who has any these diseases?
In all likelihood, that person you identified is a middle-aged adult who
is overweight or obese. Most people would probably label these “adult”
diseases, but this is rapidly changing. As many as 25% of American children
are overweight, and 11% are obese. Kids of all ages are suffering from
these complications of childhood obesity, and it’s time that we
take notice of this new epidemic and learn what we can do to help prevent it.
Starting at 2 years old, we measure the Body Mass Index (BMI) at every
well child visit. The BMI compares the child’s weight and height,
giving us a number that we can measure against known standards in order
to see if your child is at a healthy weight. The BMI is just one part
of the equation in your child’s health, however. We also take into
account the child’s general appearance, diet, physical activity,
and any other information we may have. Looking at the big picture helps
us decide on an appropriate plan of action.
Being overweight or obese can affect your child’s body systems in
many ways that are very similar to how an adult is affected. Below are
some examples of medical problems children may develop, listed by system affected:
- Endocrine: Diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Cardiovascular: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease
- Gastrointestinal: Gallstones, liver disease
- Pulmonary: Obstructive sleep apnea
- Musculoskeletal: Hip disease, fractures
There are many psychological consequences of obesity, as well. Even if
your child is physically healthy, he or she may be suffering on the inside.
It is important that we gauge how they are feeling about their health
and what their thoughts are at each visit. Involving the child in the
treatment plan is essential for success.
The treatment for obesity depends on the presence of complications. If
there are no complications, we may give you some healthy eating and exercise
tips and see you back in the office in a few months. I find that referring
to a licensed dietician is also helpful for many families struggling with
this diagnosis. We may also perform blood work on your child to check
the status of the above body systems; depending on what we find, your
child may be referred to a pediatric specialist for further evaluation
Treating obesity is both a process and a partnership. Early diagnosis
is critical, and getting the family unit on board with the care plan is
essential. Often there is no “quick fix,” and treatment relies
on tracking your child’s progress over the years. But the first
step is awareness: pediatricians everywhere need to work with parents
to help them accept that obesity is a problem and empower them to make
healthy choices for their kids!
- Childhood Obesity Prevalence and Prevention: http://www.nutritionj.com/content/4/1/24
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm